Witnessing to Catholics – kinda sorta

Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former CatholicHG
By Chris Castaldo
Zondervan, 2009, 240 pages

In “Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic,” pastor Chris Castaldo writes about his journey from Roman Catholicism to evangelical Christianity and expounds upon some of the differences and similarities between the two groups. He devotes some attention to the two major points of disagreement, justification and authority, but largely leaves the debate over other issues (clericalism, transubstantiation and the perpetual sacrifice of the mass, baptism, purgatory, Mary, penance, etc.) to others.

While Castaldo agrees that many/most Catholics are not aware of the Biblical Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (because their church teaches salvation by sacramental grace and obedience to the Ten Commandments), he argues that evangelicals (and fundamentalists) need to lighten up a bit when presenting the Gospel. He even suggests Catholics could teach evangelicals a thing or two such as putting more emphasis on social ministry and adding a bit more piety to their approach to the God of the Universe. As a former Catholic myself, I have no use for the empty pomp, ritualism, formalism, and ceremony that some like Castaldo would call “reverence.” On the plus side, Castaldo quite often hits the mark when he examines the various categories of Catholics  – traditionalists, evangelicals, and cultural – and the best approach for each group.

Some Christians would consider Holy Ground a watered-down examination of the differences between evangelicals and Catholics and they would be right. Castaldo purposely distances himself from evangelicals who present the Gospel to Catholics in a more direct and challenging manner. There is no doubt that the approach used by some believers lacks the proper love and respect for the people being witnessed to. Fair enough. But also keep in mind that Jesus didn’t accommodate the religious legalists who challenged Him. A doctor who doesn’t tell a patient they have life-threatening disease is not a good doctor. A fireman who doesn’t tell people to get out of a burning building is not a good fireman. What about the Catholics who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone but choose to stay in their legalistic church? Does Castaldo advise them to leave Catholicism and find fellowship at a Gospel-focused, evangelical church? No, instead Castaldo advises everyone to back off and not be “fruit inspectors.” Hmm.

There’s definitely some useful information here that would benefit Christians interested in sharing Christ with Catholics but there are also more than a few indications of compromise in Castaldo’s message that will please the ecumenical-minded reader and trouble evangelicals faithful to the Gospel of grace, especially former Catholics. I wouldn’t expect anything different from Zondervan in this era of watered-down doctrine and ecumenism. A less appeasing examination of Catholicism that critiques doctrinal differences much more thoroughly while still holding to a spirit of love for Catholics is James G. McCarthy’s “The Gospel According to Rome.”


For my list of over 300 books which compare Roman Catholicism to God’s Word and evangelical Christianity see my Books tab here.

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